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It Is Really Hard to Turn Around Rutgers Basketball

The hill is steep and it will be a long climb.

Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports

It's a common refrain around these parts:  Football is harder to turn around than basketball.

I get it.  Football has something like 85 scholarships to basketball's 13.  Lots of people say all it takes is two great recruits and basketball is on it's way, but in football, it takes 40.  I still get it.

But I don't buy it.

At least not here at Rutgers.

To talk about turning around a football team and a basketball team, we have to talk about what turning that team around means.  In terms of basketball, it's easy, you're talking the NCAA Tournament (which, I remind you, RU hasn't been to in 25 years).  In football, because of their odd postseason, it's a little more murky.  But, let's go with bowl eligible.  There are 120 teams, I think.  80 make bowl games.  So over half the teams in the sport make the post season.  In basketball, there are 351 teams and only 68 make the NCAA Tournament.  Even if you add in the NIT, it's less than a third of the teams making a meaningful post season tournament.

That's a hard hill to climb.

Well, you say, Rutgers is in a fertile recruiting area.  Yes.  It is. In both sports.  But here every top basketball team wades into the Jersey muck to try and land players.  Duke. Kentucky. Villanova. Seton Hall.  Kansas.  And more.  Lots more.

Football has that problem too, definitely.  But there are fewer teams.  Notre Dame comes here.  Rutgers, by joining the Big Ten, has invited Michigan and Ohio State to come here.  Miami pops in here and there.  But the competition is slimmer, it feels like.  Rutgers has gotten it's share of Jersey kids.

You know why?

Because the perception of Rutgers football is better.  Chris Ash can point to memorable experience going back only 10 years.  There's been success here.

But because of that success, and the amount that Rutgers put into getting a successful program on the banks, they ignored basketball.

And now, the Scarlet Knights are having a tough time beating out teams for players.

Basketball is battling a huge perception problem, even as things start to change. Even as they've hired a high quality staff. People still say, "Same old, Rutgers." The Coach Ks and Cals come in here and point toward what they've done and then point toward what Rutgers has done.

It's going to be a while. Rutgers won 7 games last year. Pikiell has to battle that on the recruiting trail. He has to start building relationships. And, even more importantly, he has to show recruits that he's a competent to above average coach. He has to win more next year than the team did this year.

Granted, it's not a high bar to pass over. But he has to start bringing some excitement back. This isn't about just landing 2 high quality players. This is about changing what even people on campus believe.

The amount of roster turnover, recruiting, coaching, and development that has to happen here will take years. But it can't look stagnant. It has to look like it's improving. It's about getting the facility built. It's about getting students in their seats and being loud. It's about surprising people.

It took Kevin Willard six years to get into the tournament, and Seton Hall has had some success recently. That's what you're looking at with Rutgers basketball.

That's not to say it will be all bad. There will be some highs in the next few years. Some wins. Some recruiting victories. But it's not going to come together for a while.

Meanwhile, I expect Chris Ash to point to the past and have this rolling in 3 years. Maybe, by then, Pikiell will have the program just starting to wake up.